Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Support for Japan

The terrible disaster in Japan has deeply touched many people around the globe. Personal connections to Japanese friends added to my own distress, and made me want to take some action to help the victims.

Social media proved its power once more. Not only could I keep up-to-date with the events more quickly than with traditional media, but educators also shared some great aid ideas for schools. Derek E. Baird's (@derekeb) tweet and blog led me to the website of Students Rebuild, and their project 'Paper Cranes for Japan'.

I used several resources to make the following lesson plan for one of my EFL groups last week.

1. Talk about the students' knowledge and feelings about the catastophe.
As Finnish young people often find it hard to put their emotions into words, I used these photos from the Big Picture as prompts. Especially the photos of children, and people in need, loosened the students' tongues to express their deep sorrow, and compassion for the suffering of others.

2. Introduce the paper crane project.
We looked at the above-mentioned website, and I was pleased to realize that even the rowdier boys seemed to take the project seriously. I had taken my own 'Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes' book to school, to introduce the old Japanese myth of the paper cranes. We briefly talked about history, the Second World War, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

3. Fold our own paper cranes.
At the back of my Sadako book, there were detailed folding instructions in English, which the students followed in pairs. We also watched the video tutorial from the link, provided by the Students Rebuild website. Unfortunately, we didn't have the nice, thin origami paper used by the Japanese, so the thicker copy paper at school had to do. At least, we had it in several colours.

It really was heart-warming to see even the clumsier 17-year-old boys carefully fold their cranes. Quite a few students hurried to fold several to put in the envelope. It was then sent off to Seattle, where the Besos Family Foundation has promised to donate $2 for each crane they receive. Our small group finished 24 of them.

4. Upload a photo to the Facebook page, with a message of support.
Some students, whose fingers just weren't nimble enough for the folding, wrote our message, which, after some joint discussion and several improvements read: Our thoughts are with you, and we wish you strength to carry on.

I found this a meaningful English lesson for several reasons.
1. It was full of authentic language use, reading, speaking and listening.
2. It was hands-on, which is always a welcome change to the too much text-based language classes.
3. We managed to make our tiny gesture towards supporting the thousands of victims in Japan. Although our contribution was mainly symbolic, it was still worthwhile, and something our rather spoiled teenagers, here in our safe country, need every so often.
4. But most of all, as a language teacher, I want to foster intercultural understanding and awareness, whenever possible. This lesson did it very well. It truly created an atmosphere of sharing a global village, and caring for fellow villagers, even far, far away.

Thursday, 3 March 2011


I've voiced concerns about underachieving boys at school before (blog post from last summer). I've also been toying with ideas to improve their performance in English classes, and was reminded about some of the key problems by a TED Talks video that I came across some time ago. In the video, instructional designer Ali Carr-Chellman, highlights some of the reasons why boys are tuning out of school.

Most boys simply don't fit the obedient and conscientious girl mould of doing what the teacher tells them to do. For many of them, sitting in class, fiddling with textbook exercises, is totally boring. Even sitting still for 75 minutes at a time, and on a small hard chair, is torture for many! As a consequence, they get restless, start looking for distractions, and eventually underachieve.

One size doesn't fit all, and we can't force all learners into one mould. Why is it so daunting to stop controlling and allow multiple approaches and learning paths instead?